I remember coming home from the career fair in tears. The room had been full of sleek HR reps looking for students with all the majors that couldn’t be farther from my own fluffy Liberal Arts degree: Engineering, Finance, Chemistry. Some of them almost laughed when I handed them my resume with feigned confidence. The only people who showed any interest were the insurance companies and telemarketing farms.
I was a failure, doomed to sell my soul and answer insurance claims for the rest of my life. Sure, I was good at writing research papers and winning grants from dead rich people, but what good was that in the real world? I wanted to do something important that would make a difference, yet I had no idea where to even start.
A few weeks later, I attended a very different event. A friend of mine dragged me out of bed on a Saturday morning to attend the Students for Liberty regional conference at Duquesne University. I reluctantly went along, skeptical that anything good could come of it.
After listening to a lineup of doomsayers preaching about the futility of politics and the coming collapse of the economy, a speaker came up with a different tune. It was Isaac Morehouse, giving a talk about how entrepreneurship can change the world. He explained that we can have hope for the future if we look at what has been effective in the past—namely, technologies that connect people and let them experience freedom without engaging in debate.
He spoke about a business he was starting called Praxis, which offered a program for young people seeking to create an entrepreneurial career. The idea was to fill the disconnect between hardworking, ambitious young people with no connections in the workforce and startups starved for fresh talent. He believed that young people needed to get experience working in real jobs before they could have any idea what they wanted to do with their life. College was about as effective for career preparation as reading a book about bike riding would be for learning to ride a bike. And there was nothing shameful about changing course when you realized you were on the wrong path. You didn’t have to surrender your life to a soul-sucking corporation. You could design the life you wanted to live by viewing yourself as a startup and creating a job for yourself.
At the time, these ideas contradicted nearly every piece of career advice I had ever gotten. But they resonated with something deep inside of me and ignited a spark of hope about my future. They revealed a path where I was in the driver’s seat instead of sitting on a conveyor belt.
At that point, Praxis had not even launched their first class. Nonetheless, I followed my gut and applied. Then despite discouragement from family and friends, I decided to begin the program as soon as I graduated from college.
I started the program in June 2014 still lost and confused about how to design a fulfilling career for myself, but hopeful and determined to figure it out. 12 months later, I completed Praxis with new life goals and a clearer path to get there, as well as the tools and confidence to handle whatever challenges life throws at me along the way.
Over the course of the program, I learned that surrounding yourself with people who inspire you can transform your life. I learned that I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I learned that it’s okay to change your mind and admit you were wrong, even about the most fundamental beliefs—and that I only want to be around people who will embrace that change. I learned that sometimes the most effective way to change the world is to become the truest, most fully alive person you can be and wait for others to follow your lead. I learned that life without creativity is meaningless, because we might as well be robots. I learned to accept the fact that there will always be people who criticize me and dislike me, so I might as well speak my truth without shame. And I learned that I must never stop learning for as long as I live.
I still have plenty of doubts and fears about my future, but unlike before, I now fully believe that I am capable of creating the life I want to live and making a difference in the world. I understand that the change must start with myself, so I am committing myself to a series of personal development projects to develop my creativity as well as pursuing some daunting challenges through my work.
Thankfully, I’m not doing this alone. For the first time in my life, I truly belong to a community of passionate young people and mentors who are embarking on similar journeys. I can feel the contagious energy as each person becomes more alive and more true to their self, lifting others up with them as they climb, and I realize that this is what the world needs more than anything else.